10 things in the U.S. that the Polish may find weird

Public buses in Seattle
Seattle everyday life things that may surprise a newcomer.

The USA may surprise you both in a positive and negative way. What the Americans take for granted, the Polish may find surprising. Many similarities and differences between the American and the Polish culture provoke hit discussions. I’ll describe here some everyday life situations that are most conspicuous for a Polish person.

Before moving to Seattle, WA, I’ve been to the US 3 times. These previous visits have prepared me a bit to the American everyday life nuances. Each time I was surprised by something different and I’m sure a lot more surprises are still ahead of me. I’ll briefly list the stuff that may seem strange to a regular Polish person visiting States for the 1st time.

The Europeans tend to criticize the American lifestyle more often than the other way around. Hence, at this point, I’ll say that I’m not criticizing – just marking the differences.

Public buses in the US

public transport cord
cord in a public bus

It may seem unreal for a Polish or even European person, that in order to stop a bus you owe to pull a cable. I believe in all the cities I’ve been to across the entire Europe you’d just press a ‘stop button’ placed on one of the bus bars. But what would surprise a Polish person, even more, is that while leaving the bus in Seattle you say ‘thank you’ to the bus driver? That’s a very nice change to someone who comes from a country where a bus driver intentionally pulls away even seeing you run.

American sockets and switches

The American sockets differ from the Polish ones so you need a power plug adapter. The power sockets that are used in the USA are of type A / B – in Poland you’ll use type E . While voltage in the USA is 120V, in Poland, it’s 230V so while traveling you need a power (voltage) converter.

Tips in the US – how much tip should I leave?

American dollars
American dollars

Giving tips to the waiting staff is very common in the US – you probably heard that. Maybe you even heard that you should always leave at least 10% of what your meal cost? In real life, it looks a bit different. Some people here claim that 15% is the absolute minimum you give to the waiter. In such case, if the service was really nice you can leave 18%. And if the service was outstanding starting from 20% there is no upper limit. There are also those who say the absolute minimum is 20%.

Using credit card in the States

If we mentioned tips, we should also mention credit cards. It often happens in the States that a waiter takes your credit card away and disappears to charge it with your bill.

In Poland, you never share your credit card number, its date and CVV code. That’s a slippery slope for your bank account to be robbed. However, you can share your personal identity number and bank account number with everybody.

In the U.S. you can hear people dictating the details of their credit cards even on a post office. However, what you DO NOT share is your social security number as well as your bank account number.

Prices in America

Prices in the USA
Prices in the USA

Price tags in Europe include tax. In the States, they don’t. In the attached picture the American price tag says $26.25. Therefore, in the Washington state, you’ll actually pay $28,77. The taxes differ depending on a state you are shopping in.

Multilayered bedding

American bedding
American bedding

The American bedding is differently coated that the Polish one. A Pole will surprisingly see 3 layers:
1. Bedsheet that separates you from the duvet
2. Duvet
3. (Optional) Another bed sheets lying on the duvet


I guess kettles aren’t popular in American houses. At least they aren’t popular in the American houses I’ve been to. Though, what is very common and at the same time wired for a Pole, is boiling your tea water in a microwave. I’ve seen it back in 2010 during my 1st visit to the U.S. This time, moving into a fully equipped apartment in Seattle we didn’t find a kettle. The microwave was in its place.

Groats in grocery stores

Looking for any kind of groats (apart from couscous and polenta) in a regular American grocery store is like looking for a treasure on the other side of a rainbow. In the search for millets, I’ve visited four grocery stores. In Poland, you can find various groats on shelves of every store. I believe because it’s not a standard ingredient of an American diet it’s difficult to find it here. At the end, I found both: millet and buckwheat in Whole Foods Market.

Date and time notation in the U.S.

Date and time notation in the States differs from the one used in other English-speaking countries. Traditionally, dates are written in the “month, day, year” or (“10/4/16” or “October 5, 2016”), and time in 12-hour notation(“11:00 p.m.”).

AM (also A.M. or am or a.m.) –  lat. ante meridiem
PM (also P.M. or pm or p.m.) – z lat. post meridiem

In Poland system for representing dates follows the day-month-year order (‘4-10-16’ or ‘5 October 2016’).

A 12-hour clock is commonly used in speech when unambiguous, with the AM/PM distinction denoted by phrases rano (“in the morning”), po południu (“in the afternoon”), wieczorem (“in the evening”), w nocy (“at night”), and nad ranem (“before daybreak” or “in the wee hours”) when needed. In written communication, Poles use 24-hour clock almost universally. So instead of writing “5 p.m.” they will say 17:00. 


In the American calendar, Sunday is often the first day of the week. Whereas in Poland, it’d rather be Monday.

The similarities and differences between everyday life in Poland and the USA are also the matter of approach and perspective. Above all, everything depends on whether we are willing and able to adjust.